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The main of this paper is to provide both a library research and personal evaluation on one of the novels put forward by William Shakespeare, known as ‘The Merchant of Venice’. The report shall be divided into three main segments. At the first stage, a brief discourse on the author shall be provided as well as his point of view on the narration of the novel. Additionally, this section shall be comprised of the plot of the novel ‘The Merchant of Venice’. In the second stage, the character, theme and setting of the novel shall be provided in details while at the third stage, a critical reception and my personal response shall be bestowed.
William Shakespeare was a man who was born in April 23, 1564 at Stratford upon- Avon. His father John Shakespeare worked on wool and leather. William Shakespeare is extensively acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest playwrights of the English language. His works together with his personality has been adored by several actors, scholars and everyday people across the world. The main reason why William Shakespeare has been admired greatly over the hundreds of years is because he put forward exhilarating stories that up to date are still relevant (Dobson, & Wells 59).
Young Shakespeare grew up under a thatched roof and attended a public school where he was learned Scriptures, Latin and logic. In 1582, William Shakespeare married Anna Hathaway when he was only 18 years old. Shortly afterwards, this couple had their first child Susannah. Later, they had two more children who were twins namely Hamnet and Judith, who were born in 1585. At the age of 11, Hamnet contracted the Black Plague and died in1596 (Dobson, & Wells 60).
There are varying theories that elucidate what Shakespeare did as young man. One of these hypothesis state that, he was ran away to the London. It was in this place that he took up a job as horse attendant for the people who attended theaters. Other people believe that he was a teacher in a local school at Italy. Nonetheless, William Shakespeare is initially mentioned by Robert Greene, who is a playwright, in London at the year 1592. Robert Greene describes Shakespeare as a ‘young upstart Cow’ (Moore 7).
The plays of Shakespeare were widely acknowledged that his business enterprise became the official theater organization of the Lord Chamberlain. The firm also performed frequently for Queen Elizabeth 1. After the death of Queen Elizabeth 1, the new king requested Shakespeare organization to be his is formal theatre company. The king later changed the name of the organization to King’s Men. At intervals, Shakespeare also took small roles in his plays. He together with some of his friends later opened their own theatre famously known as The Globe (Moore 8).
The genesis of his stories was based on his busy bustling life in London where he often referred to the history put forward by Raphael Holinshed known as ‘The Chronicles of England, Ireland and Scotland’. This discourse was first published in 1577. During the course of his career, William Shakespeare wrote over 37 plays. In addition to that, this author has written over 154 renowned love sonnets as well as long poems. His writings were such that, it was comprised of the intensified intimacy of a poet and the sweeping vision imbued by a storyteller. He died at the age of 52, in the year 1616 (Moore 11).
Point of View
All though most works of literature highlight the author’s point of view, they do not all have a narrator and/ or a narrative voice through which stories are tied together. In the novel ‘The Merchant of Venice’, a narrator whose voice or eyes the audience can learn from is not presented. The form style of writing that is utilized by William Shakespeare in this novel is the use of imagery, symbolism and allegory. For instance, the article uses several rings i.e. the turquoise ring that Jessica steals from his father Shylock, which presents a priced possession of Shylock since it was bestowed to him by his late wife. The loss of the ring also illustrates the loss of his prized possession (his daughter, Jessica to the Christians). There is also Portia’s ring which signifies her love and commitment to Bassanio. Other features of symbolism, allegory and imagery of the play is illustrated by various aspects such as the gold, silver and the lead caskets, the lottery, the transforming music sang by Portia, the story of Jacob and Laban, etc. (McMenomy 33).
The initial situation of the novel illustrates Antonio’s love for his best friend Bassanio, and the game of caskets stipulated by Portia’s father. As the novel commences everything is in a restless place. In Venice, Antonio is shown to be sad because of losing his ships that was filled with goods. Additionally, it is insinuated that the character is also sad because he perceives that he is about to lose his friend Bassanio, to Portia. At the meantime, Portia is not in her natural mood because she has lost her father. The biggest problem with the demise of Portia’s father is that he has stipulated an awful lottery set up for anyone who wants to woo her. This puts a hurdle for her to choose a suitor of her choice (Harold 23).
The novel is followed by conflict where poor Bassanio needs the help of Antonio in wooing Portia. Since Antonio has lost his goods to the tempest he is forced to turn to Shylock who is money lender hated because he was a Jewish. In order to get the financial assistance, Antonio is forced to sign away a pound of flesh as a form of guarantee on Bassanio’s loan. When Bassanio visits Portia house, he is faced with the dilemma of choosing a casket or never to visit Portia again. Tortured by the levels on uncertainty, he insists on playing the game of caskets as soon as possible. Luckily for Bassanio he is able to choose the right casket and he finally gets a go at Portia (Harold 24).
No sooner had Bassanio won Portia, than he received a letter that divulged the sad fate of Antonio. From the letter, Bassanio learns that his ventures had failed and that Shylock was insisting for a pound of flesh. Unlike the initial time when Shylock seemed to be joking about asking for the pound of flesh as a surety for loan, Shylock seemed enraged. His anger is further fostered by the fact Jessica had eloped stealing more of his money. Having resigned to his fate, Antonio requested his friend Bassanio to go and see him before he dies. This complicates Bassanio’s capacity to go on with the wedding preparations. He thus set forth an expedition to Venice so as to visit his friend. The complication of this scenery is further heightened by Portia, and his maid servant Nerrisa who cross dress themselves as men in disguise to follow Bassanio and see how they could assist them ((Harold 33).
The Duke of Venice offers Shylock 6,000 ducats, which is double the amount of loan he bestowed to Antonio. Shylock insists on a pound of flesh from Antonio preferably from his heart. Since the Duke of Venice is out to protect Antonio, he introduces the court to a visitor known as Balthazar. Portia, who acts as Balthazar, a doctor of law, presents a letter to the court that had been written by the known lawyer, Bellario recommending him to pass justice to the case. Balthazar is accompanied by a law clerk, Nerrisa who is also in disguise. After severally pleading with Shylock to show mercy to Antonio, he grants Shylock the permission to claim the pound of flesh (Harold 37).
According to Shylock, he insists on “specific perfomance” as highlighted by the contract. He stated that the contracted only pointed out a pound of flesh, so he insisted he would take a pound of flesh from wherever he pleased i.e. Antonio’s heart. With the same measure, Balthazar insisted that the contract stated that Shylock could only take a pound of flesh and not blood. Thus, he stated that if Shylock shed a drop of blood from Antonio’s body not only would his goods be ceased but also his land. Shylock ultimately accepts the initial offer of 6000 ducats; Balthazar however refuses to grant this request stating that he had refused the offer in an open court (Harold 39).
Later, half of Shylock’s wealth was granted to Antonio as stated by the Venetian law since an alien (shylock) threatened the life of a citizen. The play ends up when both Portia and Nerrisa reveal their true identities and presenting a letter that accounts their role in the court. The entire drama ends in a relative harmony when all the marriages are consummated (Harold 47).
In novel ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is comprised of several characters. One of these characters is Shylock, who is the Jew who lent money to Antonio for Bassanio’s loan. Similarly, Shylock is Jessica’s father. The second main character is Antonio, who is an affluent Venetian merchant, Shylock’s arch enemy and Bassanio’s best friend. Portia is an affluent and beautiful lady who leaves in Belmont. She is an heiress to her father’s fortune. In the novel, Bassanio is Antonio’s best friend. He asks money from him in order to woo Portia. Jessica is the other character in the novel, who is Shylock’s daughter. She is displayed as the girl who broke his father’s heart by marrying Lorenzo who is a Christian (Kenneth 15).
Lorenzo, is a friend to both Bassanio and Antonio. He is also the man who hit the jackpot when he finally elopes with Jessica. Graziana also known as Gratiano is a party animal who is also a friend to both Bassanio and Antonio. He is also the man who falls in love with Nerrisa, Portia’s maid servant. The Duke of Venice is the character that is used to uphold the law in the novel. Finally, the other character in the novel is Lancelot who is not only a servant but also a clown in the play. Initially, he used to work for Shylock but later transferred to work for Bassanio. In the play he is used to make smart-alecky remarks (Kenneth 15).
The setting of the novel is illustrated as an exciting cosmopolitan environment for the drama since it was a hotspot for trade. While the Jews had legally been banned for England, Venice had stipulated laws that protected the non-Venetian traders who supported the economic growth of its market. Shakespeare acknowledges the justice of the legal system through his characters e.g. Antonio admits that the Duke cannot harbor the course of law towards Shylock who had lent money to him, and was seeking his bond (McMenomy 33).
Moreover, all the people from all walks of life did business in Venice; Shakespeare’s setting is chock filled with religious strife, particularly between Jews and Christians. This culminates to in a robust legal showdown over whether or not the money lender, Shylock should be granted his pound of flesh for the body of Antonio. Conversely, the author uses Belmont setting to convey an environment that is filled with beauty, wealth and serenity. This provides the characters with a great refuge from the Venice cosmopolitan world (McMenomy 33).
Like many other plays and novels, Shakespeare uses various themes to develop the content of his stories. In ‘The Merchant of Venice’, one of these themes is race where Christianity and Judaism are not just religions they are structured as racial and national identities. The stereotypes between these two races are heightened by all the conversations between Shylock, the Jewish money lender, and Antonio who was a Christian. These racial stereotypes are deeply unsettling for the 21century audience (John 654).
The second theme grounded on this play is wealth where money is illustrated as a big deal. The plot is of this novel revolves around a Merchant of Venice who is unable to repay his loan and faces the risk of losing his life. Shakespeare uses the theme of wealth to show the different attitudes towards mercantilism, wealth and usury, especially between Jews and Christians (John 654).
The third theme used in the play is friendship. The novel shows an extensive dynamics of friendship, which is a bond that is cherished beyond all other forms of relationships. One of these legendary friendships is highlighted by how Antonio loves Bassanio. Friendship is also shown by Portia and Nerrisa’s endeavors to help their men resolve their dilemmas. Similarly, Shakespeare uses the theme of marriage to unfold the scenes of the drama (Louis 131). While in the modern days marriages are linked to the sentiments of romantic love, Shakespeare does not ground this theme in the same way. For the merchant of Venice, marriage is portrayed as a risky business venture. In the case of pursuing Portia, marriage is displayed as a mythological quest, where suitors were required to choose one of the three caskets to determine their fate. Moreover, marriage in Portia’s case shows a way for a father to convey his wealth to a man of his choice. In the case of Jessica, marriage presents a chance for an unhappy daughter to run away from her father.
The other theme in utilized in the novel is themes of justice. Since the stability of the Venice economy is founded on the businesses conducted by the foreign men such as Shylock, the region highly regards the laws that protect the laws that protect them. Nevertheless, when it comes to the money lender, Shakespeare demonstrates the law as one sided where the law is bended whey Shylock asks for his pound of flesh. Throughout the entire play, Judaism is linked with the Mosaic Law. This law places strict emphasis on justice and pursuing the letter to the law. Christianity however, is linked to the New Testament where emphasis is placed on God’s mercy as well as salvation.
When the novels written William Shakespeare is compared, ‘The Merchant of Venice’ represents one of the few Shakespearean features that is list understood. One can hardly distinguish whether it is a tragedy or comedy. Again, the novel does not account for the significance of the caskets that was put forward by the Portia’s father. In addition to this the quality of mercy as put forward by the characters is blurred since the predicaments that befalls Shylock is relatively large (Shakespeare 222).
In my opinion, Shakespeare is acknowledged as one of the greatest play writers over a hundred years because of various reasons. In ‘The Merchant of Venice’, the author effectively utilizes various themes and sceneries to bring the drama into an intensified climax. He uses the diversity of people’s characters, attitudes, friendship as well as the environmental settings to illustrate sharp contrasts to each other. Furthermore, Shakespeare uses various imageries, allegories and symbolism to spur the interest of its audience. In the modern world today, this story is relevant as is it shows the varying perspective of marriage, friendship and jurisdiction that affect people in the current world.
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Louis, Newman. Ricard Cumberland: Critic and Friend of the Jews. Mason, OH: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008
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Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice: With Contemporary Criticism. Ignatius Press, 2009